What time is it? Did I miss the first bands playing tonight? Because Iiris are owning the stage like a headlining act. I am unsure if it is a she or a they but based on their on-stage dynamic I’d have to say they are incredibly commanding. The two tiny powerhouse singer girls are skirted by a pair of adorable floppy haired boys, jumping around and dancing the shit out of their guitar and bass.
Lead singer Iiris herself is a miniscule fury of squeaky-voiced Kate Bush mania in suspenders. With a dreamcatcher on her mic stand and scarves around her wrist like a witchy woman, she howls insanely over dance-like-no-one’s-watching electrock hits tinged with a healthy dose of new wave punch. As unabashed and silly-fun as some of it is, ultimately she truly has a gorgeous voice with the ability to draw blood from the guts all while making the crowd clap along.
Between sets, there’s either a very disconcerting or the fire alarm briefly goes off. Either way, no one notices, not even security.
After a couple of ear-shattering instrument checks, Lára Rúnars and her band got up to take the stage.
You know when you are at a family barbecue or a distant cousin’s wedding and some tame radio hit from 1984 comes over the speakers (i.e. Wang Chung) and the parents who are all jacked up on two wine spritzers start rocking the fuck out doing weird point-to-the-lord dances and butterfly knees and all the teenagers are like “UUUUUUUGGGGHHH MOOOOOOOM STOP SINGING YOU’RE EMBARRASSING MEEEEEEEE.” And oh, fuck, no. The Chicken Dance.
It shouldn’t be so bad! Parents are allowed to have fun and enjoy their kind of pop music and be uninhibited every now and then. There’s nothing wrong with it, even if it does look silly to us. So why then is it so mortifying for a 14-year old to see their parent croon along to ‘We Built This City, or for me to be watching Lára doing the hip-break shuffle to some of the most watered down easy-listening tunes in current Icelandic pop music?
By the time the third band is setting up the room is steadily filling up but still keeping a nice subdued atmosphere which is good in a place like NASA, which can go from zero to shitstorm in a second.
Next up is a band that hails from my hometown of Montreal, but having never heard or seen them before tonight I planned on not giving them hometown advantage. That wouldn’t have helped anyway because THEY SUCK! Haha, no I’m totally fucking with you.
Young Galaxy is the third band of the night to feature a female vocalist over new-wavey electro pop, but a bit edgier this time. They are a bit like a mashup of the previous two bands – super upbeat and Reagan-era glossy like Lára but thick and dreamy with intense vocals like Iiris. Their sound is big, bombastic and full of dancey club beats and catchy chanting choruses. Real John Hughes movie prom scene stuff. Their frontwoman’s delivery is all about intensity and being lost in the sound – her brow is furrowed, her arms are stretching out, her spine is straight and she faces the crowd with no fear. It is quite powerful.
Her back up band wearing all-white with black belts is a nice touch too. Sort of a disco-Andrew WK thing. The guitarist and second vocalist also pans out some fantastic stage banter throughout the show: “It’s a sexy place, Iceland. Rainy sometimes, sunny sometimes, rainbows other times. Strange men groping your ass sometimes! It’s a sexy place.” I guess the hometown band got the advantage after all…
While the crowd has started blowing bubbles into the room like it’s the masked ball dream-sequence from Labyrinth, a dreamy ginger man is setting up onstage… Joanna Newsom – eat your mousey-voiced heart out and move aside. Active Child is the new harpist on the block. Except his voice recalls something more like… the way the stars must sound when they collide; an eruption of sparkling, colourful gasses in a nebula; the tumbling of the Perseid meteors over the summer skies; the slow shift of planets as they rotate on their axes. (Hyperbole not included.)
His delights are obviously still earthly for the simple fact that while his lush, soaring ballads overlayed with sparkling glockenspiel samples and angelic, echoing vocals is enough to transport the mind elsewhere, it is also sensory enough to grip you by the hips and the neck, stare you deep in the eyes and say “I. Want. You.”
His sexy-space songs gradually shift into modern synth-pop goodies over the course of the set, giving me Heaven 17 and Erasure headrushes and sending previously statuesque audience members into fits of dancing frenzy. He closed his set by melting the best of the two worlds he inhabits together for a grand, passionate finale that left the audience like an insatiable lover. That’s how it’s gonna be Active Child? Harsh!
But we weren’t done yet and the crowd had yet to have their ultimate satisfaction. The lights go dark and now the suspense is killing me. A giant yellow triangle is flashing on a backdrop and four black-clothed white-belted YACHTers (reverse Young Galaxy clothes!) building up high tension for the impending entrance of their lead-woman. And then she hit the stage, like a space-age Annie Lennox coming out to lead a Houserobics workshop in white Doc Martens, Claire L. Evans took control of the stage like it had always belonged to her, NASA WAS HER HOME.
What ensued was quite simply amazing and most definitely the first real dance party of Airwaves 2011. As soon as Jona Bechtolt dropped his guitar to join Claire on the mic, coordinated dance moves were busting out left and right, both singers climbing into the crowd to stand-surf it Peaches style. Keeping in line with the new wave schematic of the night, YACHT are like modern day B-52s, to the point that they even played a cover of one of their songs (Party Out Of Bounds, I do believe, please correct if you know otherwise), playing up a harder, more absurd and hilarious angle of those wonderful ’80s years. Claire is a total ham, posing and posturing and pulling shapes all over the place in the most ostentatiously wonderful way. They even held a Q&A session for the audience to find out if we would ever live on Mars or what the meaning of life is (still figuring it out!) and a wonderful slide show to tell us about where we were and what time it was and that it was happening right now!
By the three-song finale, these boat aficionados had driven the crowd into party harbour, with a massive collective bouncing mess in the pit of the floor and the side-riders full of happy sweaty hip-shaking people, everyone throwing up their fists and singing along Ah-yee-ah-yee-ah-yee-ah HO! We then exited the Temporary Autonomous Zone but will never forget what it feels like to be there – it feels like utopia.